May 2013 E-News
In April, Reaching Critical Will celebrated three birthdays: the 98th birthday of our organization, WILPF; the 6th birthday of one of the campaigns we have long been working on, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons; and the birth of a brand-new campaign we’re participating in, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. While most birthdays mean cake (and thanks to ICAN Australia’s Tim Wright, we did enjoy an ICAN birthday cake in the WILPF office in Geneva!), these birthdays really signify the accomplishments, and future challenges, of peace activism.
Abolishing nuclear weapons. Preventing the development of lethal autonomous robots. These are the challenges embraced by the above campaigns. They are part of WILPF’s overall work, which is stopping war. In 1915, the founders of WILPF knew that war must be stopped forever, that new weapon systems must not be developed, that the resources spent on weapons and war must be diverted to building systems and structures for social and economic justice. Our work today remains as difficult and as empowering as ever.
We can see one example of such work in the three peace activists who broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in July 2012. Because of their actions of nonviolent civil disobedience, Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli, and Greg Boertje-Obed were convicted of damaging a national defense premises and of causing damage to US government property. They intended their actions to draw attention to the moral and legal bankruptcy of nuclear weapons and to challenge the myth that these weapons afford human beings any security. Their case should demonstrate to the world the determination of people to speak truth to power, and RCW was honoured that they used our logo in their actions at the Y-12 plant.
It is in this spirit that we continue our work at the UN and around the world. Details about some of our recent and upcoming projects can be found below. We look forward to your support as we continue our work!
Ray Acheson, RCW Director
In this edition:
- NPT PrepCom highlights increased frustrations
- Protests at the NPT
- NPT side event: Humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons
- Abolition 2000 nuclear-free declaration
- Open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament
- Killer robots at the Human Rights Council
- Explosive weapons and the protection of civilians
- New: Still assuring destruction forever
- Upcoming Events
- Featured News
- Recommended Reading
The second preparatory committee (PrepCom) of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) met in Geneva from 22 April to 3 May 2013. The key issues facing states parties at this meeting included the nuclear weapon possessors’ failure to comply with their disarmament obligations; the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons; and the failure to convene a 2012 conference on a weapon of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East. The PrepCom did not resolve any of these issues, nor did it make headway towards ensuring success at the next review conference. A walk-out by the Egytian delegation in the middle of the PrepCom session, along with the mounting frustration from many non-nuclear weapon states with the failure to achieve nuclear disarmament, have indicated stress on the NPT regime as it approaches the 2015 review conference.
While Egypt’s walk-out from the NPT PrepCom made its way more prominently into the media, another protest was also held during the PrepCom’s second session. RCW staff joined almost 100 people from 20 countries in a march to the Japanese UN mission in Geneva during the NPT PrepCom after it refused to sign the 80-country joint statement condemning the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons. In an article in the NPT News in Review (Vol. 11, No. 5), Akira Kawasaki and Celine Nahory of Peace Boat and ICAN argued, “As the only country that has experienced the devastation by the use of nuclear weapons, Japan has the moral authority and therefore a unique responsibility, to lead—or at least participate—in global efforts to promote a humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament and abolition.”
The protestors also stopped by the Canadian and Australian missions along the way, as both of those countries also refused to sign the joint statement. Sweden also refused to sign, and the foreign minister Carl Bildt later dismissed the statement as “no big deal” and the 80 co-sponsors as “not really serious states,” even going so far as to label the humanitarian arguments in favour of nuclear disarmament as a “side-track” that “no serious states engage in”.
During the NPT PrepCom, RCW hosted a side event along with the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Article 36 that focused on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. RCW programme manager Beatrice Fihn highlighted some of the consequences outlined in RCW’s recent publication Unspeakable Suffering, while Thomas Nash of Article 36 urged states to ban nuclear weapons, now.
Reaching Critical Will staff and WILPF members participated in Abolition 2000’s 18th Annual General Meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland from 17-18 April 2013. The meeting adopted a declaration, which was released on 19 April during Abolition 2000's visit to the Clyde Naval Base at Faslane, Scotland, and a call for a global ban on uranium mining.
In October 2012, the General Assembly decided to convene an open-ended working group (OEWG) to develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons. The OEWG will be chaired by Ambassador Manuel B. Dengo Benavides of Costa Rica, and will meet between 14-24 May, 27-28 June, and 19-30 August 2013 in Geneva. RCW programme manager Beatrice Fihn participated in the first panel of the OEWG on 14 May. Statements and presentations can be found on the RCW website.
In April, the UN released a report calling for a global moratorium on lethal autonomous robotics, weapons systems that can select and kill targets without a human being directly issuing a command. The report is due to be delivered at the end of May by its author UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Professor Christof Heyns, and debated by governments at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on 29 May. RCW will organize a side event and a press briefing on 28 May on this topic.
WILPF is a member of the leadership body of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which was launched in London on 23 April. We urge all countries to consider and publicly elaborate their policy on fully autonomous weapons, particularly with respect to ethical, legal, policy, technical, and other concerns that have been raised in the Heyns report. We also call on countries to endorse the recommendations in the report, including the call for a moratorium on lethal autonomous robotics.
The Norwegian MFA is hosting the final conference on the theme of ‘reclaiming the protection of civilians under IHL’ from 23 to 24 May 2013 in Oslo. Following a series of regional meetings, this upcoming conference in Oslo will be global and the MFA has invited all states to participate. WILPF will be participating through the International Network on Explosive Weapons to encourage states to: acknowledge that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas frequently causes unacceptably high levels of harm to civilians and communities, and furthers suffering by damaging vital infrastructure; undertake further work on this issue, including focused discussions to develop responses that will improve civilian protection; and recognize the need to end the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas and endorse the conference’s draft recommendation to this end.
Reaching Critical Will has published a new report on nuclear weapon modernization, Still assuring destruction forever. All nuclear-armed states have plans to modernize their nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and related infrastructure. They will spend billions of dollars over the next few years extending the lives of these weapons of terror. This report updates the 2012 study, providing an overview of the nuclear weapon programmes and policies of China (Hui Zhang), France (Hans Kristensen), India (M.V. Ramana), Israel (Merav Datan), Pakistan (Zia Mian), Russia (Pavel Podvig), the United Kingdom (John Ainslie), and the United States (Andrew Lichterman).
Conference on Disarmament 2013, Part Two
13 May–28 June 2013 | Geneva, Switzerland
Open-ended working group to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, first part
14-24 May 2013 | Geneva, Switzerland
Anti-personnel landmines convention intersessionals
27–31 May 2013 | Geneva, Switzerland
Interactive debate on lethal autonomous robotics in the Human Rights Council
29 May 2013 | Geneva, Switzerland
30 May–2 June 2013 | Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany
IAEA Board of Governors
30 June 2013 | Vienna, Austria
GGE on information and telecommunications security: 3rd session
3–7 June 2013 | New York, USA
International Experts Meeting on the Importance of Human and Organizational Factors on Nuclear Safety in Light of the Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
10–14 June 2013 | Vienna Austria
Three peace activists convicted of damaging a national security premises
Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli, and Greg Boertje-Obed, who broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in July 2012, were convicted of damaging a national defense premises, which carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years, and of causing more than $1,000 of damage to U.S. government property, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The three activists will be sentenced in September and will be held in jail until then. (For a full account of their activism, please see The Prophets of Oak Ridge.)
Villagers on Jeju Island, ROK removed from protesting construction of missile base
Last week, Gangjeong villagers were removed while protecting tents they had long used just across the road from the Navy base construction gate on Jeju Island, Republic of Korea. This base will be a key port for the US Navy that is now moving 60% of its forces to the Asia-Pacific.
Experts point out US plans to deploy new nuclear weapons
The plans to modernize the B61 nuclear weapons stored in Europe include new tail fins for the weapons, which Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists has argued is a “significant upgrade of the US nuclear weapons capability in Europe.”
US Air Force sidelines 17 nuclear missile officers
The Air Force removed 17 launch officers from duty at a nuclear missile base in North Dakota over what a commander called “rot” in the force. The Air Force struggled to explain, acknowledging concern about an “attitude problem” but telling Congress the weapons were secure.
US reschedules ICBM test launch for 21 May
The US has announced plans to launch a Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, 4,200 miles away. The government postponed the test in April due to increased tensions with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
French missile test fails
A French ballistic missile test failed after the missile destroyed itself just minutes after its launch from a nuclear submarine off the coast of Brittany. Debris from the missile fell in an area that was closed to sea and air traffic.
US launches an autonomous combat drone
The X-47B, a stealth plane nicknamed “the Robot”, is 38 feet long with a 62-foot wingspan and flies at high subsonic speeds with a range of over 2,000 miles. Its takeoff, flight and landing entirely computerized. It was scheduled to launch off the deck of an aircraft carrier and then try to land aboard the same ship, but it actually landed at a naval station on shore.
Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is launched in London
The launch of the campaign to prevent the development of fully autonomous weapon systems included a series of events to brief activists, media, and parliamentarians.
Dan Zak, “The Prophets of Oak Ridge,” The Washington Post, 2013
John Kneel, “‘The Point of No Return’: Should Robots Be Able to Decide to Kill You On Their Own?,” Rolling Stone, 30 April 2013
Rebecca Johnson, “The NPT’s ‘unacceptable and continuous failure’: Egypt walks out,” OpenDemocracy, 1 May 2013
Yousaf Butt, “The Case for Nuclear Unilateralism,” Foreign Policy, 8 May 2013